Local professor a finalist for award

Miranda Pederson/Daily News Nicole Breazeale, an assistant professor of sociology at the WKU Glasgow Campus, fills a wheel barrow with soil Feb. 25 for a raised bed for the jail garden project at the Barren County Detention Center.

GLASGOW — A Western Kentucky University faculty member is being honored for her efforts to bring the community into the classroom.

Nicole Breazeale, an assistant professor of sociology who began her career at WKU Glasgow in 2011, is one of five finalists across the nation for the Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement for Early Career Faculty.

According to Breazeale, she's made community involvement a key component in six of her classes so far.

The three main projects they have pursued are starting a garden at the Barren County Detention Center; hosting community workshops for Barren County residents to discuss problems they deal with as renters; and presenting information gleaned from interviewing low-income consumers at the 2014 State Food Policy Council forum in rural Kentucky about the food available to them.

"It's all about making education come alive and having students become active members of society," she said.

While coming up with ways to engage her classes with the community has meant a great deal of extra work for her, Breazeale said the results are worth the effort.

"This kind of work has been very inspiring and exciting and humbling," she said.

Each year, the Lynton Award, named after a former UN Boston professor who spoke and wrote about the gap between academic knowledge and growing communities in need of such knowledge, honors a pre-tenure professor who brings community engagement to their teaching, research and service, according to the website for the New England Resource Center for Higher Education, which bestows the award.

Though the award will be going to Mara Tieken, an assistant professor of education at Bates College, Breazeale said she was the only nominee from a small regional campus.

"I am still very incredulous," she said. "It's very exciting and a tremendous honor."

Project: Breaking Ground began in early 2016 and saw university students in Breazeale's Sociology of Agriculture and Food class and Detention Center inmates taking the class working together to create a sustainable garden, according to Barren County jailer Matt Mutter.

There were discussions about starting a garden at the jail for a few years but, before Breazeale's involvement, he wasn't sure how to approach such a project, he said.

Work on the project got started shortly after Breazeale approached the jail with the idea for the garden.

"It's just kind of blossomed from there," he said. "It's become more than we ever expected."

This semester, Breazeale is once again teaching a class that comes to the garden every week and the garden continues to produce food for the jail's kitchen, like strawberries, potatoes and onions, Mutter said, adding that the class aims to install a chicken coop by the end of the semester.

The garden has had a positive effect on participating inmates by providing them with healthy food, teaching them about gardening and giving them something productive to do, Mutter said. "It's really shown them what they're capable of," he said.

The community is supportive of the garden as well, with a few community workshops taking place at the garden, Mutter said.

"It seems like everywhere I go, I get good feedback on it," he said.

— Follow reporter Jackson French on Twitter @Jackson_French or visit bgdailynews.com.

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